I was asked by Kindred Spirit magazine to outline how we can use compassion to deal with bullying. I have learned from a lifetime of dealing with bullying, first as the victim and then as the strong advocate of anti-bullying workplace cultures, is that the bully is as much imprisoned by their own actions as their victims.
Bullies are always wracked with uncertainty and anxiety, which is often what drives their behaviour. They have very little belief in themselves, which is why they can show very little belief in anyone else. By understanding that you are dealing with a deeply insecure individual, it can help you to feel more secure in your own ability. Sticking to what you are good at and not giving ground, you can show that you have the skills and confidence to deal with a situation which will ultimately minimize the impact of the habitual bully.
The other thing to remember is the power of your own thoughts. Our thoughts create our reality, and if you allow these thoughts to be created, shaped or controlled by the bully, you will certainly find yourself playing the victim very quickly. Keeping strong positive thoughts in your mind, especially during a bullying incident is highly effective in minimizing its impact.
If you are the victim of a bullying in your home or work life it can be very undermining and make you feel isolated and unhappy. Using compassion to tackle bullying does not mean being weak, in fact it means the very opposite. We need to connect to a stronger sense of our love and compassion for everyone, even the bully, in order to transcend their effects on our well-being.
One of the most undermining things that a bully can do is to infect us with their own lack of belief. Every time you start questioning ‘Is it me?’, stop that thought in its tracks and hold on to a mental picture of all the times you have handled the situation perfectly well before the bully came into your life (or when you were outside of their influence).
The only way that a bully can belittle us is when we start to accept their view of the world, with all its projected anxieties. If you have a sustained and long-term bullying situation, start to use your own mindfulness practices with strong affirmations of your own ability to minimize any caustic effects they may be having. The ultimate act of compassion is towards yourself, and if you know that the situation is not going to change, then seriously think of removing yourself from it.
Try the Four S’s to bring more compassion to a bullying situation:
Show concern. Even after an aggressive outburst by the bully, show concern for their well-being. Share your observations that they seem upset, angry, tired or unhappy. Ask them if they want to talk and offer them some time if this feels right. If they continue to behave inappropriately, tell them you are there for them when they are ready to calm down and then gently extract yourself from the situation.
Smile. This one simple act has an immediate effect on our own sense of well-being and a positive impact on our relationships. For the bully that seeks to belittle or undermine, the smile can be very disarming.
Speak up. Bully’s get away with their behaviour precisely because people are afraid to speak up; yet you take away their power by doing exactly that. If you cannot address the bully directly, then start by talking to someone you trust. Many organisations have a welfare line to report the incident, or talk to your local HR who often have policies that will help to address the situation. Or if its at home, start to share your issues with a trusted friend.
Say thank you. Although this sounds like the very last thing you should do, saying thank you for the person’s feedback and telling them you will bear it in mind, gives the bully and their bluster very few places to go. It’s hard to keep going on at someone who appears to have agreed with you. You have done no such thing of course, for you have only thanked them for the feedback, not agreed with their comments, but you have used gratitude to stop them in their tracks.
Remember that everything we experience in life brings important life lessons our way. When we explore more mindfully what we might be learning through this situation, it can help us to navigate and overcome the effects of bullying.